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BLM Discussions – 2 Years On

In 2020 we launched our monthly Black Lives Matter (BLM) discussion. Two years on, we continue to hold them once a month, discussing documentaries, podcasts, books and spoken word to name a few. These discussions aim to create an environment to learn, reflect and discuss what we can do as an organisation and as individuals, as well as to provide a space to acknowledge and celebrate Black culture and heritage. 

Director, Sam Oliveira, comments on why Reform decided to start the monthly discussion: “In the wake of the murder of George Floyd we felt it was important to put a mirror up and look at our own organisation, to not only see how we could do better but recognise that it’s simply not good enough to be non-racist, we need to be actively and unapologetically anti-racist. We wanted to do this by making space within working hours for staff and our wider community via the monthly BLM meetings to explore these issues as well as celebrate the richness and influence of Black culture”. 

In 2013, the #BlackLivesMatter movement arose following the death of a seventeen-year-old boy, Trayvon Martin, at the hands of a white police officer, George Zimmerman. After his acquittal, national outrage sparked as Mr Zimmerman received second-degree murder charges. Following this tragedy, three Black radicals – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi – came together to create the political and ideological movement that we know as BLM. 

In 2020 following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, hundreds of protestors took to the streets of Battersea, gathering outside the US embassy and demanding justice. Similarly, in Manchester, thousands crowded Piccadilly Gardens with signs reading lines such as “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter”.

BLM Protest, Picadilly Gardens, 2020 – Photography by Jody Hartley

Following this, a statue of Edward Colston in Bristol was removed by protestors and thrown into the harbour. Similarly, a statue of Robert Milligan in London was removed by authorities for its connections to colonialism. The removal of these statues sparked a mixed response from the public, as even though both individuals were publicly known for their connections to slavery, some felt that removing them was an act of removing history. Since 2017, there have been multiple inquiries into race inequality, led by political figures, such as the Windrush Lessons Learned Review (2020), the Lammy Review (2017) and the Race Disparity Audit (2017) to mention a few. 

But, that’s just a brief account of what’s been happening with the BLM movement over the past few years. Sadly, brutal attacks of racism have been happening for centuries on end. In our meetings, we have looked at a number of different media resources that observe the history of colonialism, racism and slavery. 

Most recently, we watched the 1978 documentary ‘Blacks’ Britannica’ which was produced by David Koff and Musindo Mwinyipmende. The film was banned in the US for being ‘dangerous’ viewing material, and a censored edit was distributed around by Public Broadcasting (PBS). Subsequently, the film was banned in the UK soon after. It was only in 1989 that the raw version was published by an independent platform that went by the name of Alternate News. You can now view this documentary for free on youtube.

Discussions that arose from this included themes of integration, racism and awareness. Reform’s Artist in Residence, Melissa Dean, shared her thoughts adding that “As a mixed-race woman, there is still so much Black history I have to learn about, and Reform has provided that space. From free books to audio listening, we have always been offered valuable pieces to take away and discuss”. 

Another visual piece of media we looked at was the BBC anthology series by Steve McQueen, ‘Small Axes’, named after a lyric that originated from a Bob Marley song “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”. Consisting of five short films, within each a different set of characters narrates a tale of the West Indian settlement in London during the 1960s to 1980s. One of the discussion attendees talks about their experience of watching this series, commenting that it was “eye-opening” and “the whole series opens up a space to celebrate London’s West Indian community, based on real-life events, it’s both moving and educational”. They also add that they are “grateful” for the BLM meetings, as if it was not for them, they might never have come across this series. 

Other resources we have looked at include a number of books such as ‘Brit(ish)’ by Afua Hirsch – a discussion of identity, Black culture and politics in the context of the UK, Ghana and Senegal – as well as ‘Feminism Interrupted’ by Lola Olufemi, a book which well and truly reclaimed feminism. Another title we read was ‘Natives’ by British rapper Akala; autobiographical in essence, the book explores themes of race and class, historically and in modern culture in the UK. Last but not least is the ‘Barbican Stories’, a collection of real-life accounts of racism or discrimination employees of the Barbican centre faced during their time working there.

One individual who has been attending the discussions since the beginning of 2022, speaks on how the meetings have impacted their life: “It’s no one else’s job to educate you on the history and foundations of the country we live in and call our home. In today’s society, we have the resources and facilities to do so, but I admit that finding the time can be challenging. However, these monthly meetings have helped me find the time for things that are important”. 

The Podcasting Manager at Reform previously suggested we look at ‘Black Lives Matter And The Climate’ from the ‘How To Save The Planet’ podcast series. She comments how as an organisation “We speak a lot about our passion for environmentalism and racial equality, but we hadn’t spoken about how the two are so intrinsically connected” adding that “It was really eye-opening and led to a great discussion about how we can approach these topics”. 

Last year for Black History Month we held an in-person discussion, inviting our very own Artist In Residence to perform a spoken-word piece on “sexual abuse from a mixed-race perspective”, as explained by Melissa Dean. Following the performance, Melissa touched on how the meeting provided a “safe space”, which in turn helped her decipher how this experience had affected her “own Black identity”. During the rest of the meeting, the organisation Black in MCR came down to deliver an anti-racism training course for those attending. 

However, this is just a small selection of the vital and valuable material we have discussed over the years. If you would like to find out what other resources are available, please click here to view our resources spreadsheet. 

In Manchester, many organisations and charities are fighting for systematic change, justice and freedom for the Black community. Check them out, or feel free to get in touch if you know of others. 

If you want to get involved in our monthly discussions, please email Discussions are held online every month and are open to anyone interested. It’s a safe space and we welcome people to join whether they want to discuss, share or just listen. 

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